Thursday, July 30, 2009

Writing the Query Letter - Key Point #1

As promised, we're going to do a series of posts on writing the query letter, including examples of query's that worked. Eventually, I'll post my query as well and we can dissect it together.

To start with, there are tons of references on how to write a query, and I've read them all, but it never really seems to make it easier to write one. The problem is effectively summarizing the hook of your story, making it eye catching, without being overly flamboyant or non-professional. In fact, that word professional, is the key in writing your query. The agent wants to know that you are a serious writer, understand professional demands, and can adhere to them. We've all heard of the queries written on pink paper or with cursive font because the author wanted to "stand out." Unfortunately, those tricks will make the author stand out . . . in a bad way!

Key #1: Be professional at all times.

This excerpt comes from the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.


"The first thing to think about when you sit down to write a query letter is that, in a lot of ways, it’s similar to writing a cover letter for a job application. You’re addressing your letter to a person who’s never met you before, and who sorts through hundreds of such letters a day. This crucial first contact is your chance to demonstrate that you’re smart, professional, and interesting. The way to convey those traits is through the tone and content of your letter. The tone should be professional, specific and engaging—never general, overly familiar or abrasive. Make sure your letter is well written and grammatically correct. And make sure to include all of your contact information, including your mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.

"These suggestions may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many letters I get that leave out vital contact information, start out with 'Hi Mollie—' instead of 'Dear Ms. Glick:', or include unprofessional phrases such as, 'You’ll probably just throw this letter out like the other agents have.' Occasionally, I get a letter written in a lighter, more humorous tone, and that’s OK—as long as the letter reflects the kind of book the author is querying me about (i.e., a humorous nonfiction book or funny novel) and it still includes all the information I need to know. But if in doubt, stick with a professional tone, and include a one- or two-line quote from the book to give the agent a taste of its voice.

"Like a cover letter, your query letter should be no longer than a page. It should include your contact information, a salutation, a paragraph describing your book, and a paragraph explaining why you’re the perfect person to write that book. Lets take a closer look at each of these components."

- Excerpted from the article "Write a Killer Query Letter: How to Hook an Agent," by Mollie Glick, in the 2010 Guide to Literary Agents.

More coming as we examine this in depth. Having written several queries, some that worked, many that didn't, we'll look at my letters and examine for strengths and weaknesses.


Angel Bluestocking said...

Since you found an agent and haven't blogged for a while I guess you must be busy.

Hope it's going well for you

warm wishes

Todd D. Severin said...


Thanks for the kind thoughts. Yep, I've been too busy to write, and I apologize for not updating recently. My post today explains it all. But please, don't give up on me . . . I'm coming back!